Lot 1
  • 1

James Drummond R.S.A.

70,000 - 100,000 USD
275,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • James Drummond R.S.A.
  • The Return of Mary Queen of Scots to Edinburgh
  • oil over pencil on panel


Anonymous sale, London, Christie's, 8 June 2006, lot 277 (as English School, Mid-19th Century);
There acquired.


New York, The Met Breuer, Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible, 18 March - 4 September 2016.


A. Bayer, Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible, exhibition catalogue, New York 2016, p. 286, reproduced plate 118;
C. Swanson, “Inside the New Met Breuer’s Housewarming Show,” 2 March 2016, www.vulture.com.

Catalogue Note

Born in Edinburgh, James Drummond is best-known for his paintings of Scottish history and folklore, and was also an early photographer, historian, and curator of the National Gallery of Scotland from 1868 to 1877.  The present work is directly related to the canvas The Return of Mary Queen of Scots to Edinburgh (fig. 1, National Galleries of Scotland) shown at the Royal Scottish Academy in 1870. While the title of this work suggests that the subject is Mary’s return to Edinburgh from defeat at Carberry Hill, Drummond has portrayed her departure from Edinburgh on June 17, 1567 for the island fortress of Lochleven Castle where she would abdicate the Scottish throne on July 24th in favor of her one-year-old son James. Mary was incarcerated in Lochleven Castle on the charge of having her second husband, Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley, murdered, and her innocence or guilt was fiercely debated in nineteenth century literature. The Scottish Reformation was a constant source of inspiration and fascination for the era’s writers and artists. Drummond returned many times to tumultuous passages of Mary’s life, in works such as Queen Mary’s Last Look at Scotland (fig. 2, 1865), as did his contemporaries Ford Madox Brown, William Powell Frith and Sir David Wilkie.  

In its unfinished state, the present work provides a fascinating window into Drummond's working method. While the panel may have been abandoned, the costumes of the central figures are essentially complete, with special attention paid to the fall of light across Mary's sumptuous yellow brocade and the armor of the man to her right. The details of the subjects’ heads and hands are mainly rendered in graphite, with some faces and expressions painted with a high degree of finish. The unexpected arrangement of these figures on an exposed plane of grey ground, and the economical suggestion of the street’s architecture, is what made this work one of the highlights of The Met Breuer’s inaugural exhibition Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible in 2016.